Sunday, December 29, 2013

Deku Palace: Learning from Its Mistakes

After playing Majora's Mask a bit more recently, I'm looking back on it less and less fondly.  Story wise, it's one of the better Zelda games, but some issues with its level design are hard to ignore.  From that, we can gain a lesson: how to make a game less frustrating.

The Deku Palace is actually a pretty neat place.  The visual design is colorful and vibrant while the music is catchy.  There's a sinister reason that the song tends to be stuck in people's heads, though.  You're going through just fine.  Just have to make your way past the guards, no big deal.  Go down into a hole and find a guy selling magic beans.  Quite the business plan there, by the way.

After that, you plant the bean and start to work through the upper part of the gardens, and here's where the trouble starts.  This area is afflicted by something I thought was only present in infuriating freeware games.  If you fall, you have to work your way back through the gardens, hop back across the lily pads, ride the plant up, and start the whole process over again.

This is really bad if you're designing to reduce frustration.  It's usually best to limit the amount of time between failing and trying again.  The more time in between, the more likely you are to throw the controller and wish ill happenings upon the designers.  To make matters worse, it only takes a small error to throw you back to the beginning.  Just one stray deku nut is all it takes, or a misstep derail three minutes of gameplay.  The platforms you navigate are quite small, to heap more problems on the pile.  Honestly, I wish the little spitting deku scrubs laughed every time they shot you down.  At least then I'd know the developers were doing it for spite.

Oh, and a very small point.  The first Lilly pad near the bridge to the palace has a sign right next to it.  You sometimes want to use the Deku scrub's spin attack to get more momentum into your hops across the water.  On this pad, you'll end up reading that God forsaken sign nearly any time you try that, a clear example of why they separated the "use" button from the "attack" button to begin with

I honestly don't remember a part frustrating me quite as much in any of the other Zelda games.

So, the lessons here are obvious:  limit the amount a player has to replay if he/she screws up to reduce frustration.  Even I Wanna Be The Guy has reasonably spaced save points after ruthless platforming sections.  Also, make sure your context sensitive buttons aren't fighting your players.

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